Kennedy Center Shines Spotlight on SU Graduate
SALISBURY, MD — Greg Jones is making a name for himself as a playwright.
The Salisbury University graduate will have one of his pieces, All Save One, performed in an open reading as part of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts’ 16th annual Page-to-Stage New Play Festival.
Correction: He’s making two names for himself.
The Kennedy Center has him listed as Greg Jones Ellis.
“I use the name Greg Jones Ellis as my pen name,” he said. “It started when I had to choose a stage name back when I was a union actor. There was already an actor in Actors’ Equity named Greg Jones, so I had to tack on a new last name.”
Ellis was his dad’s middle name, “but my friends from SU know me as Greg Jones,” he said.
A commonplace name – “Shared by about a million other guys around the world,” Jones said – yet he was an uncommon student. In 2004, he and his partner quit their corporate jobs in New York and settled in Chincoteague, VA., where they already owned an “escape to” home.
“This was what allowed me to rethink my life, go to grad school, and rekindle my writing, acting and teaching aspirations,” Jones said.
He was in his 40s when he graduated from SU, in 2007, with an M.A. in English (literature concentration).
“A friend of mine visited me during those years and said, ‘Greg, you must feel like your brain just woke up.’ She was right,” Jones said.
And his brain had to wake up fast. Michael Phelps fast.
“The English Department threw me into the deep end,” he said, “and I began teaching English composition the same week I started school. I had to immerse myself and to stay open to learning all kinds of things that had emerged in the field since I was an undergrad [a B.A. in drama from Catholic University].”
During this time, Jones also acted in two SU theatre productions: Dr. Paul Pfeiffer’s original adaptation of the novel Joseph Andrews and his production of David Mamet’s Oleanna (Pfeiffer retired from SU this year). But Jones wasn’t restricted to the stage; he was thrilled that the film classes of Drs. David Johnson and Elsie Walker, both associate professors, were included in the English Department’s offerings.
“After earning my M.A., I was comfortable offering myself as both a teacher of English and of film,” Jones said. “As a playwright, my lit analysis classes helped me understand how masterpieces like A Streetcar Named Desire are constructed. Interestingly, All Save One has one character who is jealous of Tennessee Williams’ success, so the disciplines sometimes converge.”
1951 was when the big-screen adaptation of Streetcar – primal Marlon Brando at peak “Stella!” – came out … and when coming out of the closet really wasn’t an option. It’s during this timeframe, 1950 to be exact, and in this Hollywood milieu that All Save One takes place, throwing a famous writer, his actress wife, his male lover, her male lover, a young priest and a young hustler into the deep end.
“I have always been fascinated by the golden age of American studio movies,” Jones said. “I'm also very interested in honoring the sacrifices and secrets that LGBT writers, actors and other creative artists had to make to keep working in such an image-conscious community. The studios could ruin someone who didn't keep their private life very secret. In the play, all the characters are living at least a bit of a sham life, but they also care very deeply about each other. But it’s a very fragile masquerade.”
All Save One will be performed Sept. 4 at 12:30 p.m. in the Chinese Lounge next to the Kennedy Center’s Eisenhower Theater. It is free, tickets are not required, and limited seating will be available on a first-come, first-served basis. The reading is sponsored by the Washington Stage Guild and will feature actors from its company. “No props or costumes,” Jones said. “Just music stands and scripts in hand.” It is recommended for adults only (explicit language/themes). There will be a post-performance discussion.
“I'm really looking forward to watching an audience of strangers react to the piece,” Jones said. “I'll then go back and rewrite based on what I think worked and what didn't.”
He is also working on two more plays in various stages of development.
“On top of that,” Jones said, “I keep marketing my published play, Divinity Place” – inspired by his parents’ wedding; he isn’t against mining his family for material … or new surnames – “to other theatres around the country. It had its first full production on the Eastern Shore last year, at the North Street Playhouse in Onancock, VA.”
Jones said goodbye to Delmarva in 2014, when he moved to Annapolis, not far from his hometown of Bowie, MD. He teaches composition and literature at Anne Arundel Community College and film at Chesapeake College.
“Oh, and I just got cast as Beethoven in the play 33 Variations, which will open in Annapolis in October,” he said. “Do you think I'm a bit overbooked?”
Maybe – but not overlooked.
Greg Jones is standing out from the crowd and ready to take a bow.